The one sentence summary

You can control your attention and choose your life by understanding why you get distracted.


  • We are living through a crisis of distraction. Plans get sidetracked, friends are ignored, work never seems to get done. Instead of suggesting a digital detox, the author focuses on the psychology that drives you to distraction, and explains how to make pacts with yourself to keep your brain on track. It’s essentially a guide to making decisions and seeing them through.
  • Being indistractable means striving to do what you say you will do. Indistactable people are as honest with themselves as they are with others.
  • The main components are:
  • Master internal triggers: only by understanding our pain can we begin to control it and find better ways to deal with negative urges by reimagining tasks and our temperament.
  • Make time for traction: in this context, that’s the opposite of distraction. Turn your values into time, and control the inputs, not the outcomes.
  • Hack back external triggers: hacking means gaining unauthorised access to data in a system or computer. Hacking back means understanding the way tech companies use external triggers to exploit vulnerability in human psychology. This is a social-validation loop that needs breaking. Then put measures in place for interruptions, email, group chat, meetings, etc. That includes removing unnecessary triggers from our line of sight, particularly our desktop or mobile.
  • Prevent distraction with pacts: precommitments work well (think Ulysses tying himself to a mast and blocking his ears to stop succumbing to sirens – the so-called Ulysses Pact). Pacts can involve effort, price, and identity.


  • Four psychological factors make satisfaction temporary: boredom, negativity bias (bad is stronger than good), rumination (our tendency to keep thinking about bad experiences), and hedonic adaptation (the tendency to return quickly to a baseline level of satisfaction no matter what happens to us).
  • You can’t call something a distraction unless you know what it is distracting you from. Distraction is a sign of dysfunction.
  • The goal is to eliminate the white space from your calendar, so that you are left with a template for how you intend to spend your day.
  • Moving from one thing to another (switching tasks) leaves an ‘attention residue’.
  • Workplace technology drive us crazy in this loop: people here are always connected, reducing control over one’s time, to get ahead I need to be always available, increasing expectations to be always on, repeat ad infinitum. Dysfunctional work culture is the real culprit for this cycle of responsiveness, not technology.
  • Phubbing is a combination of phone and snubbing – to ignore a person or one’s surroundings when in a social situation by busying oneself with a mobile device.


  • The author also wrote Hooked, explaining how to use the tricks that social media companies use to hook users in and keep them using.
  • Some of the proposed measures deal with extreme addiction, many of which the author appears to have succumbed to himself. Those less addicted may wonder why these even need to exist – basic self-control should surely be sufficient.